Wednesday, February 02, 2011


Glenn Beck's TV show has dropped to #5 among the top-rated cable news programs, and his viewership is 40% lower than it was a year ago. But I'm not sure it matters -- his viewership is still much greater than, say, anything in MSNBC's prime-time lineup. And as Richmond Ramsey, a writer for David Frum's Web site, noted a couple of days ago, he's making his elderly viewers monomaniacal and crazy (hat tip: Jonathan Chait):

Over the past couple of years, I've been keeping track of a trend among friends around my age (late thirties to mid-forties). Eight of us (so far) share something in common besides our conservatism: a deep frustration over how our parents have become impossible to take on the subject of politics. Without fail, it turns out that our folks have all been sitting at home watching Fox News Channel all day -- especially Glenn Beck's program.

...I don't know when it happened, exactly, but [my mother] began peppering our conversation with red-hot remarks about President Obama. I would try to engage her, but unless I shared her particular judgment, and her outrage, she apparently thought that I was a dupe or a RINO. Finally I asked my father privately why Mom, who as far as I know never before had a political thought, was so worked up about Obama all the time.

"She's been like that ever since she started watching Glenn Beck," Dad said.

A few months later, she roped him into watching Beck, which had the same effect....

Here's what worries me about Beck. I know that the lefty blogosphere and even a few mainstream media commentators (Paul Krugman, for instance) are willing to take on bite-sized bits of nonsense or disinformation from the right. When the noise machine disgorges an appalling non-fact, our side can work to debunk that non-fact, and often have some success at pushing back.

But Beck isn't dealing in nuggets of untruth. Beck, on a daily basis, cooks up a witch's brew of nonsense -- untruths in a chemical reaction with other untruths and yet other untruths -- and then sends this poison spewing every day through the Fox News firehose Roger Ailes so generousluy provided him a couple of years ago. It's so toxic, and so complex (and it seems so bizarre), that our side doesn't try very hard to debunk what Beck says. We mostly just shake our heads.

But Richmond Ramsey's parents, and his friends' parents, and about a million and a half other people every day take in this nonsense and believe it.

Andrew Sullivan posted a Beck clip yesterday that was picked up by a lot of other bloggers. Sullivan said a lot of what I'm saying now, about the toxic effect on viewers, but he never tried to rebut any of the craziness in the clip (which purported to show that every political disturbance on the planet, from the unrest in Tunisia to EU bailouts, is interconnected).

And then, as the clip spread through the blogosphere, even Sully's expression of concern was lost, and the story just became "Beck -- what a loon!"

But, really, how do you rebut this stuff? Beck has now doubled down on the Egypt-as-component-of-global-contagion theory. (The clip is here, but I can't seem to embed it.) He starts by arguing that Muslim Brotherhood wants a global caliphate, then lists American organizations he says are affiliated with the Brotherhood. And, well, this stuff is silly -- the Muslim Student Association? Is its determination to destroy Western civilization and replace it with a global caliphate demonstrated by its co-branding efforts with the Susan G. Komen Foundation to fight breast cancer? Is the Islamic Society of North America showing its hatred for non-Muslims by condemning attacks on Iraqi Catholics and praising Egyptian Muslims who acted as human shields for besieged Coptic Christians?

But, of course, now that the toxins are in the system -- now that (probably) millions of Americans believe that anything non-extremist any Muslim does is just a clever subterfuge, with Beck as the highest-profile promulgator of this notion -- what can you possibly say that those millions will believe, or that can even be a countervailing force on the people they talk to?

And when Beck gets to the lunatic idea that Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dorhn are somehow linked to every current uprising across the Muslim world because they were reportedly involved in last year's Gaza flotilla, or that there are further ties to the 1960s American left because the Egypt demonstrators used the term "days of rage," or that Frances Fox Piven is involved because she likes to encourage protests -- well, what the hell do you say? How do you disprove these negatives? How do you even undermine them?

Basically, we've allowed Beck and others to turn a bloc of U.S. citizens into exact analogues of the most paranoid Islamist anti-Semites -- you know, the people who think literally every Jew on the planet is actively involved in a global Zionist conspiracy to destroy Islam. We mock those people, but Beck's viewers are exactly like those people.

I get e-mail pleas all the time asking me to support a Beck boycott because he inspires rage, and potentially violence, against his many Antichrists. But even if no act of violence is ever carried out under his influence, he should be boycotted and made a national pariah -- hello, minstream media and political insiders, are you listening? -- because he works this crap into our national dialogue, with one of the biggest megaphones available.

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